Within the small somewhat edgy arts scene in the Lehigh Valley there are a few people amongst my contemporaries that I felt truly tried to promote the legitimacy of the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy arts.  No one that I know did this with more genuine enthusiasm than Craig Smith of Art – n – Soul Studios.  Craig aggressively promoted alternative artists like Adam KuderJohn Kolbek, Dan Harding, Silas Finch, Konnik, and the beautiful graffiti art of Destroy and Rebuild NYC.  And while sometimes my photography doesn’t quite seem to fit in the same genre, Craig gave me the first opportunity to show my work publicly at his beautiful studio and gallery space.  I hung 5 of my own pieces and invited 4 other friends and  fine art nude photographers to show along side me.  Craig also invited me to contribute to another collective show called My Fetish Valentine that ran for the month of February 2009 to kinda celebrate the erotic and kinky.  The idea of contributing to this show pushed me into new areas and expand my notions of expressive photography.  Craig was planning a reprise of the My Fetish Valentine show for 2010 and I was asked to contribute again for this show.  I truly have some wonderfully dark visions for this years show…

Promotional Poster for the Illuminated Figure Show at Art-n-Soul
Promotional Poster for the Illuminated Figure Show at Art-n-Soul

So, it was with incredible sadness that I came to learn of Craig’s passing last night.  It just doesn’t seem like this could even be possible.  I felt like our friendship was just getting started.  And now he’s just gone.  Just like that.  I knew that Craig was sick and fighting hard to recover from a very serious case of H1N1, commonly known as the Swine Flu.  His wife had been updating his facebook status and it seemed like his condition was improving each day.  Again, even though we weren’t very close friends, there wasn’t a day that passed that I wasn’t thinking positive thoughts for his recovery and wishing comfort and strength for his wife and family.

I thought I would use my little slice of the web to meditate a little bit about the brief time I had to share with Craig.  The first time I met Craig, it was an early summer day.  My friend Adam Kuder had called me and said that there was a new tattoo studio that had opened in downtown Allentown.  The guys running the place were looking to book local artists to show their works and that I should talk to them about putting together an exhibit of my work.  When I walked into the studio, I first met Craig’s partner Curtis.  I started to show some prints to Curtis and he quickly called Craig over to show him.  They were both excited to let me pull together a small group show of fine art figure photographers.  When I expressed concern over having full nudes on display in his gallery, he was steadfast and reassured me that this was exactly the kind of work that he wanted hanging in his gallery.  There were no restrictions.  He explained that his vision was to have a continuous flow of artwork running through the gallery and that his was a place for forward thinking adult art patrons.  His reassurances allowed me to relax and pull together a group of the most talented figure photographers and give them free reign to show their strongest pieces, regardless of the body parts on display.  It was liberating and I knew I had found a good home to show my work.

And later in February 2009 when the My Fetish Valentine show was closing and I came to pick up my artwork, Craig told me that he didn’t want to let me take one of the pieces with me and that he loved it so much he wanted to buy it from me.  His generosity and support of artists through his efforts to both collect and promote them will be a part of his lasting legacy to the local alternative arts community here.

I’ll just close by offering up one thought for Craig as he departs this world.  Of course you will be missed here much more than you could ever know.  But more than that, you touched the lives of so many by bringing us all together and our lives are richer for the experiences we shared together.  Rest in peace.

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